Child-rearing is possibly one of the most important tasks that a society must undertake. With that in mind, bringing up a new generation the right way has been an issue that millions of people have wrestled with for centuries. And the answer to that question lies in the earliest years of childhood, i.e., the child’s formative years.
In order to learn how to properly raise a child, adults have to focus on the basics and understand how a child develops from the very first stage in its life. That requires examining how crucial the formative years are for raising children, as well as how society and education can help steer its youngsters in the right direction. And it’s these topics that the article before you will cover.
What Are the Formative Years?
Broadly speaking, the formative years are the period of early childhood, between the ages of 0 and 8. Experts across the world agree that this period is by far the most important in a child’s life. Its overall health, happiness, learning achievements, growth, and development all depend on how parents and caregivers raise the child within this short time span.
During these first eight years, you can witness rapid growth on several levels. The child begins to develop intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically. There are numerous factors that influence the rate of this growth, and we’ll cover those in a bit.
But the main takeaway is that everything in life, from behavioral patterns to principles and moral choices, depends on how the child develops before it turns 8 years old.
It should be worth mentioning that proper child development during the formative years is an inalienable human right. The UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly stipulates that all children have the right to develop to the maximum extent of their abilities.
In addition, they have the right to a living standard that fits their mental, spiritual, physical, moral, and social development.
Why Are the Formative Years So Important?
So, experts know that the formative years of a child are important. But why is that the case? Why is it the first 8 years and not, for example, the first 5 or the first 13? Let’s explore the answer to that down below.
1. Physical Development
The formative years of childhood development are extremely important when it comes to physical health and growth. Proper nurture will help the body develop strong bones and muscles, as well as a potent immune system. Frequent and affordable health care is just as important, especially when the child is still an infant or a toddler.
In order to ensure the proper development of children, both parents have to take an active role in keeping the little one healthy. A lack of care can lead to serious consequences in the future. The child might grow up having a frail immune system or a deformity, which will cause various difficulties later in life.
2. Mental and Cognitive Development
During these early years, the child’s brain is like a sponge. It rapidly picks up on new information and most of the things that the child learns become ingrained as empirical truths. It is also during this time that the child first begins to learn a language.
At first, it’s informal, passive learning through observation and exposure. Within the last few formative years, the child will already know how to read and write.
Once again, both parents and society take an active role in helping the child’s mental growth. On the one hand, the parents are responsible for the child’s early cognitive development through talking, playing, and giving the child tasks. On the other hand, institutions like kindergartens and schools work hard on establishing the basics of language and culture.
As adults, you can’t ignore proper child education, even at an early age. Children under 8 learn things quickly, and if they pick up on something inaccurate, it will take a lot of effort to teach them the accurate information later in life.
3. Emotional Development
Before they turn 8, children have already experienced the most visceral emotions: sadness, happiness, anger, fear, and even lethargy. But in order to keep a child’s emotional well-being intact, you have to be there with it every step of the way.
A family has to provide emotional support for its youngest members. Children who live in stable, two-parent households tend to grow up emotionally stable and secure. On the other hand, children who went through some kind of trauma have a hard time adjusting to the world around them. Moreover, they can grow up to exhibit destructive behavior.
4. Social Development
Humans are social creatures; they need companions, and you can observe this fact as early as childbirth. The first people a newborn child sees are usually its parents, and for most of the first year, they are the closest people the baby interacts with.
Later in life, a child forms bonds with other children, as well as members of the extended family. These bonds are crucial in how the child will interact with the world in the future.
But the family is just a starting point. Schools and other public institutions are just as important in developing a child’s social skills as its parents. That’s why you have to make sure that each school provides a safe environment and that it promotes positive social norms.
How Do You Help Your Children During the Formative Years?
In 2016, an alarming statistic was published by the World Health Organization. Namely, 43% of children from low- and middle-income countries cannot realize their full development potential. That’s a staggering 250 million children who are falling behind!
So, what can you, as adults, do to make each child realize their potential in the best way possible?
1. It Starts With the Family
Parents and guardians ought to take an active role in their child’s early development. In short, they need to provide nurture, shelter, protection, stimulation, and nutrition.
A child needs clean drinking water, healthy food, and access to a clean bathroom. The house itself shouldn’t look dirty or messy, because that can cause a sense of insecurity in the child. Moreover, parents need to make the child feel welcome in its own home. In other words, they must avoid harsh punishments and focus on improving the child’s behavior.
When it comes to education, parents ought to have access to proper learning materials. In addition, children ought to play with toys that stimulate cognitive growth and development.
Finally, parents should encourage their little ones to socialize with other children in the neighborhood. Playtime helps them learn how to form bonds and how to interact with people outside of their family.
2. Schools and Kindergartens
Schools are directly responsible for raising new generations of free thinkers and academics. More importantly, they also provide a good backdrop for socializing between children. With all that in mind, it’s safe to say that schools have an incredibly difficult task to tackle.
Firstly, every school needs experts, people who understand children and know how to engage with them. Just one reputable teacher can influence an entire generation of future scientists, architects, etc. So, your job is to provide the best training for as many teachers as possible.
Next, schools need proper learning equipment. That can range from a simple whiteboard and a marker to personal computers and video projectors. With the proper equipment, teachers can achieve a lot during a single class. More importantly, children with access to modern learning tools can learn and develop faster than before.
Finally, each school should constantly grow and innovate. Different lesson styles, field trips, quizzes, and interactive teaching can greatly benefit both students and teachers in achieving their goals. More importantly, the school staff should always follow modern trends in education and adjust the lesson plans accordingly.
3. Individuals and Organizations
Even if you don’t have a child of your own, you can definitely help children develop during their formative years. For instance, you can invest money in an educational project or donate to local educational facilities.
But sometimes, even small things can leave a huge impact. If you decide not to litter in front of a 5-year-old or if you explain to your neighbor’s child why throwing a pebble at a window is wrong, you’ve helped the child acquire a positive trait.
Large companies and corporations can help in their own way. For example, they can fund research related to early childhood education, or donate to schools, kindergartens, and children hospitals. It’s a great way to help out the community and provide the necessary resources.
4. Cultural Barriers
Culture plays an important role in a child’s upbringing. Your children are very much a part of the culture they were born into, so you have to work hard to teach them about the best values that come from it. Understanding cultural norms can also give parents and caregivers a lot of insight into how people approach child-rearing.
5. Focusing on the Less Fortunate
Back in 2016, over 320 million children came from broken families. More alarmingly, the number of children who lived in extreme poverty was three times larger. More than 90% of these children will never receive the nurture and care that they deserve.
As individuals, you can invest time and money in programs that try to reach less fortunate children during their formative years. By doing that, you can make sure that they grow up with a little more emotional and social stability. In addition, you can prevent these children from turning to a life of crime later on.
A child learns incredibly quickly, especially if it’s under 8 years old. Everything it learns during these formative years will become the basis for its personality. That’s why it’s the adult’s duty to be there every step of the way and to help the child become a healthy, functioning adult ready to take on the world.